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AHRQ--Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Advancing Excellence in Health Care

Explore Your Treatment Options: Patients Share Their Stories

Understanding a diabetes diagnosis helps woman reclaim her life

Gwen Rodenberger was scared straight when she was diagnosed with diabetes. The disease was rife on her husband’s side of the family, and she saw firsthand what it could do.

“My husband’s uncle didn’t know he had diabetes until they had to amputate his feet,” says Gwen, 51, of Monticello, Indiana. 

Until she got the diagnosis, she admits that she too was in denial. Nearly 300 pounds and a self-admitted “couch slug,” Gwen went to a nearby urgent care center in June 2005 only after she couldn’t shake urinary tract and yeast infections. “I was feeling terrible,” says Gwen.

Gwen figured the doctor would give her medicine and she’d be fine. “We found some sugar in your urine,” the urgent care doctor told her. At first, Gwen didn’t believe the doctor, who diagnosed her with type 2 diabetes. Then Gwen’s thoughts went to “this is how I’m going to die.”

While bad health and death from diabetes are common, they don’t have to be. To prevent that from happening to her, Gwen learned about diabetes and the different ways that she could get control of it.

Today, Gwen has never felt better. She’s dropped 100 pounds, eats much healthier, exercises, and has even gone dog-sledding. Plus, the steps Gwen has taken have lowered her blood sugar to such a degree that she no longer needs diabetes medicine.

“If I can get my life back, others can too,” she says.

Been diagnosed with diabetes or know someone who has? To find out more about your treatment options, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers a helpful, free consumer guide, called Pills for Type 2 Diabetes: A Guide for Adults or Premixed Insulin for Type 2 Diabetes: A Guide for Adults.

Gwen owes her success to educating herself about type 2 diabetes, asking questions, learning about the different options to treat the disease, and having a “wonderful support structure.” That includes a close friend with diabetes, her doctor, and husband—all of whom have been encouraging.

Her goal: “I didn’t want to be a blind old lady with no fingers or toes.”

“I needed to understand what was going on,” she recalls. After receiving her diagnosis, Gwen was frustrated that she couldn’t see an endocrinologist for a few weeks and was unable to get into a diabetes education class for several weeks. So she began to explore options on her own. She started with a Diabetes for Dummies book, did some research on the Internet, bookmarked the American Diabetes Association Web site, and became a fan of the CNBC show, “dLife,” and its accompanying Web site. “I needed information immediately,” she says.

With type 2 diabetes, your body does not make enough insulin or does not use it as well as it should. Sugar builds up in the blood because the body cannot use it without the help of insulin. If blood sugar stays high for a long time, you are at higher risk for heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney damage, and other serious problems.

“It’s pretty darn sobering,” says Gwen, who also discovered that keeping her blood sugar at a good level could lower her chance of these complications. “You have to understand the bad to get to the good.”

Gwen felt fairly well educated by the time she saw the endocrinologist, who became a huge motivator for her. Gwen learned to manage her diet. Doctor and patient realized that it would be easier for Gwen to take on one change at a time rather than a whole bunch initially. Gwen first gave up soda. She realized she was consuming 2,000 calories a day drinking Coke.  She stopped and the “pounds fell away.”

After 3 weeks, she changed other parts of her diet. “I eliminated whole sections of the grocery store. I started reading labels,” she says. Eventually, Gwen began exercising, hitting the gym. “That became my lifeline.”

Gwen’s doctor also discussed the different kinds of pills available to control blood sugar. Several cause weight gain, some cause swelling, some can affect cholesterol, and some are more expensive than others.

Gwen and her doctor decided to try one of the older diabetes pills, called metformin. “It’s effective and cheap, and the benefits were obvious,” says Gwen. “The ‘aha moment’ was watching my blood sugar come down close to the normal range.”

There were side effects: “My lower GI (gastrointestinal tract) hated the medicine … and it initially screws with your vision.” Both side effects resolved themselves in about a month, after her body got used to the medicine. 

“I had more energy, I was losing weight, I felt better, and my blood sugars were in check,” she says. “I was getting a lot of measurable results.”

Her advice: “Don’t look at it as a death sentence; it ended up being one of the best things for me,” she says. “Since my diagnosis, I’ve had a great life.”

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